Steinbach City Council is making a recommendation that our province ends the practice of downloading some EMS responsibilities onto municipal fire departments. Specifically, the concern is over 'lift-assist' calls.

According to the City of Steinbach, a 'lift-assist' call requires firefighters to provide services when emergency medical service (EMS) responders lack the available resources to lift a patient for transport.

"This is something that has become a challenge in our city," says Mayor Earl Funk. "Our paid on-call firefighters are being called to help with lift assists when that is the responsibility of our regional health authority and our EMS workers."

Funk says the Steinbach Fire Department responds to approximately 300 calls per year. He notes they are probably on pace for as many as 60 'lift-assist' calls this year.

"To be called out in any hour of the night to help with a lift assist, it's very taxing on them," adds Funk. "We have to remember; they all have jobs too."

As of May, according to statistics published by the Steinbach Fire Department, medical assists account for 14 calls in 2023.

He adds Steinbach firefighters are the type of men and women that when they get the call, they respond immediately without asking who? why? Or what?

City Councillor Michael Zwaagstra says this is a clear example of a provincial responsibility, such as health care, being downloaded onto municipalities. 

"We need to do whatever we can to protect our municipal services," adds Zwaagstra. "Our fire department does a lot of important work in our city, and they are busy enough dealing with emergency calls within the city, dealing with fire calls."

He adds this is straining their fire department.

"We need to be sending a clear message to the province that we expect the health care to be provided by the province, by the health authority as opposed to the municipality," adds Zwaagstra.

City Councillor Jac Siemens adds it used to be that firefighters were only called as a last resort. He notes they are now becoming the first call. 

"We want to make sure that our residents are taken care of as well," adds Siemens. "Ultimately our fire department's there to fight fires."

Funk says this is not only a Steinbach problem, but also an issue across all municipalities. 

"They will just go, if they get called," he points out. "That doesn't matter how many times they get called; they go."

At Tuesday's council meeting, City Council voted in favour of asking the Association of Manitoba Municipalities to lobby the province of Manitoba to end the practice of 'lift assist' calls, which it says is downloading EMS responsibilities on to municipal fire departments and transferring the costs of this health care service onto municipalities.